A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

6.03 – Medium Mundi {Half-World}

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The heavy door drove Elena to her knees before bouncing off its other corner and careening into a pile of rubble to her left. After the impact, the noise of the building falling down around her suddenly dulled, as if the door had left a ball of wool in each ear. Her vision spun, and for a moment Elena wondered if she was going to pass out. A few weak motions brought her to her wobbly legs, but then she stumbled, lost her balance and tumbled to her stomach.

The floor had stopped rumbling, but every now and then the impact of another piece of the monastery toppling indicated that the danger wasn’t past. Elena grabbed a nearby handle sticking out of the floor and dragged herself to her feet again, this time closing her eyes. Without sight, her balance was a little better, and a three-fingered hand grabbed her own and helped her to her feet. Her whole body felt heavy, and she focused on her feet, forcing herself to put one in front of the other.

The light started to change as they left the monastery, Elena leaning heavily on Frederica’s shoulder. Her friend was silent, and pulled her forward with a stubborn steadfastness, just a little faster than Elena felt she could manage. Slowly the sound of falling rubble died away, but the Calaetor didn’t slow until the darkness of the indoors had given way entirely to the early morning sunlight outside.

“-difference of a few seconds,” Emerald was saying through the muffled haze. “Of all the Twisted, I didn’t think Coastering would come the closest to killing us.”

“Our own fault for walking into what we knew was a trap,” Fred said. Elena blinked, a motion that seemed to take far too long. The Echo’s voice wasn’t as muffled as Emerald’s. With great effort, Elena lifted her head and looked around.

The speckles of black and white stretched out as far as the eye could see, layered into and a part of the expanse of land that stretched between the monastery and Florenzia. Elena almost retched at the disorienting double-vision, her mind trying to reconcile the two images she saw clearly at the same time.

Her friends were looking at her, half-present in the swirls and whorls of fog that inhabited the world of dreams. Beside them, Ele and Fred were as crisp and clear as ever, present in both double-vision images.

“I’m okay,” she slurred, “I’m fine.”

“Let me see your head,” Owl helped support her other side, “I saw that door come down.”

“He didn’t kill us,” Emerald said, encouragingly, “they thought they’d finish us off here, this is a win for us.”

“My mother is dead,” Elena said dully. The little group grew silent as Owl carefully prodded the bruise on her head, and Elena looked out at the speckles of white and black and tried not to throw up.

“Dying too the progeny of myself they are,” a deep voice from just behind her should have been startling, but Elena had almost been expecting it. “Can not for them the sympathy of heart be yours?”

“I think you’re fine, for right now,” Owl said, carefully releasing her head. Elena was surprised to find that she liked his gentle fingers on her scalp, and was sad when he let her go.

What a silly thing to notice, given the circumstances, she thought, turning.

Even halfway between her old world and that of the Storm, the scene in front of her was clearer than her own friends. The Storm sat completely still at a very small table behind her. Behind him, the crumbling wreckage of the monastery still kicked up a cloud of dust, and the cloak that wrapped around the Avatar seemed to whip in the wind of it.

“Small, is the life of you,” the Storm said, “a leaf cannot a mountain move. With effort greatness is the survival of you…with impossible is the winning of you. Even now, final are the pieces whose moves are made. Pieces the greatest do the chessmasters move against you.”

“The Twisted have been telling me this whole time how impossible it is to defeat them,” Elena snarled, “I’d think you’d get tired of it.”

“Who are you talking to, Elena?” Owl asked from far away. Elena put a placating hand on his arm.

“I’m sure this is confusing to watch, but there’s someone here I need to talk to,” she said, before turning back to the Storm. “Do you think you can convince me off? Do you think killing my mother and dropping a building is going to make me curl up and cry? You’re not scaring me away from killing the Twisted, you’re just making me want it more.”

“This is the thinking of you, that killing of the Fulvio, the Coastering, the Mia, it is win-making?” The Storm had no features, but his voice held contempt.

“And you,” Elena said. “Don’t forget yourself.” She glanced around, the motion enough to make her stomach turn, and found the quarterstaff that one of her friends had pulled out of the rubble.

“Forgetting I am not,” the Storm said.

“No, you’re just overconfident,” Elena said thoughtfully. “I don’t think killing you here will kill you for good. But I do think that killing you will keep you from coming back for quite some time. Enough time for me to cut the rest of the Twisted off from each other. Enough time to finish them off.”

The Storm’s laugh was like hailstones falling on armor, clear enough that it pierced through Elena’s mental fog and made her head pound.

“Finishing, is the winning of you?” the Storm chuckled, “center of the world, is the thinking of you of Italoza?”

“You have other Twisted in other countries,” Elena said, “but you need rulers all over the world to open the gate between your world and this one.”

“Rulers of all is the wanting of me,” the Storm said. “Was the wanting. The needing of me, now changed is it. The needing of me now is one. Ruler one, crown one, it is the needing of me.”

Elena wasn’t quite sure how to respond. “I’ll stop you,” she said simply.

“Death will you be the stopping,” the Storm said. “But if not, other Twisted will the gate-opening perform. Twisted of Francas, or Twisted of Espana. Twisted of countries which you are of not-knowing, of Mericas and Nipon and Jawoyn. One, a gate single is all the needs of me, for the progeny to enter. Once entered are they, more will gates they open.”

“I’ll kill them too, if I have to,” Elena fired back, “any Twisted I can’t convince to join me instead. With you dead for a while, I’ll have plenty of time.”

“Floating leaf,” the Storm craned his head suddenly, looking over her shoulder, then slumped in his chair, as if even that action had completely exhausted him. “Plenty of time is not the having of you. Time is not the having of you at all.”

“Elena,” Frederica’s voice was still muffled, but her tone was sharp. Elena ignored it, lifting her quarterstaff in a two-handed grip. The Storm raised his head and met Elena’s gaze, and for a dizzying moment she looked into a million black-burning stars in a void of a thousand snowstorms.

Elena brought the quarterstaff down hard, shattering through the Storm and the chair and the table. The staff snapped in half before it connected with the ground, and Elena let go of the pieces to let them clatter across the ground. The pieces of the Storm’s body melted into the speckled black and white landscape, and Elena turned her back on them before they had even finished dispersing.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “that must’ve looked-”

Her friends weren’t paying her any attention, staring instead toward the city. Elena had to focus her gaze through the fuzz and haze, to see what was actually in the distance when she accounted for the fog and speckles that weren’t there.

The man was on horseback, and easily could’ve crossed the distance between them in the time it had taken for Elena to finish with the Storm. He was moving slower than he could’ve, however, so that the complement of guards on foot could keep up with him. They moved in a tight formation that spoke of years of practice moving as one, from the city toward the lonely pile of rubble.

“If they just wanted guards to kill us, the Twisted could’ve sent them in the first place, and not bothered with the monastery,” Emerald said, “what’s their game?”

“Maybe it has to do with spectacle,” Frederica pointed toward the walls, where rows of specks indicated they had an audience that stretched from one city wall to another.

“All of that for a demolished building and a handful of fugitives?” Owl clutched at his knife nervously.

A strange calm had come over Elena, one which didn’t mesh at all with the circumstances she had just realized surrounded them.

“They’re not watching because of the monastery,” she said, her eyes locked on the group. “They’re not even watching because of us.”

I should’ve realized earlier, when the Storm mentioned the chessmasters moving their greatest pieces.

“What is it, then?” Ele asked, “what’s so interesting that the whole city has to watch?”

Elena nodded to the figure on horseback, now close enough that the band on his head glinted in the sunlight.

“They’re watching the King of Italoza.”


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One response

  1. Sengachi

    …. Right. The spymaster can inhabit any Mortalis.



    2017-03-28 at 11:51 pm

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